The last leg of a tour is invariably the toughest. The novelty of being on the road has faded, fatigue sets in, and thoughts turn to holidays or home.
It is all the more tempting to indulge in such thoughts here in Resistencia, the capital of Argentina’s Chaco province, a town signally lacking the affluence and glamour of Edmonton and Houston, the two previous destinations for the Scotland squad. So perhaps the most important task for the players, as they prepare to play the Pumas here on Saturday, is to remain focused and optimistic: to be ready for one last winning effort before at last being able to rest for a few weeks.
One player who knows all about that task is Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. The 24-year-old’s career seemed in some danger of drifting downhill just a couple of months ago, with no new club in sight after talks about a new Edinburgh contract had broken down. It was a trying time for the scrum-half, and the pressure on him increased towards the end of April when the capital club, knowing he had nothing else lined up, came back and offered him a less than lucrative short-term deal.
Those unflattering terms might just have been tempting to a man who, having become a father for the first time in January, puts a high value on stability and security for his family. But, retaining his self-belief and determined to prove he could find a new challenge, he agreed a two-year contract with Scarlets, then the defending league champions, just days before Edinburgh’s deadline for responding to their offer.
Now, as well as looking forward to playing for the Welsh club next season, Hidalgo-Clyne also has high hopes of continuing his renewed involvement with Scotland, having won his first caps in two years in the Tests against Canada and the United States. Competition is stiff for the No 9 jersey, with Greig Laidlaw still the first choice when fit, and Ali Price, George Horne and Henry Pyrgos also in contention. But Hidalgo-Clyne has matured a lot in the past couple of years, and at the very least will put up a determined fight to win a place in the squad for the Autumn Tests and the Six Nations, and from there aim to be selected for the World Cup.
“I’d love to be involved in another World Cup,” he said. “I felt at the last one it was a difficult one for me, because I didn’t really play much. I think it was 11 minutes against South Africa, so not a huge amount of game time, and that was tough, specially with being away from home for so long.
“I’d like to get down to Scarlets and get as much game time as possible, and be involved in the Autumn Tests and the Six Nations. If I am, I can maybe look forward to the World Cup. If I’m not, I’ll just have to keep working hard.”
The last World Cup was certainly a curious end to his first year as an international.
After winning his first cap off the bench in the 2015 Six Nations, Hidalgo-Clyne went on to play in the following four matches and in two of the warm-up Tests – only to then be reduced to those 11 minutes in the tournament itself. He won three more caps in 2016, but his star had fallen significantly by then, and, in the wake of the rise of Price at Glasgow, the Edinburgh man was no longer seen as a contender to displace Laidlaw.
A hamstring injury kept him out of the summer tour last year after he had been called up when Laidlaw was drafted by the British and Irish Lions, and as he contemplated his next move this year, he had to face up to the fact that some possible moves might put an end to his Scotland career. Some reassurance from head coach Gregor Townsend, pictured, however, helped direct him down the route that led to signing for Scarlets, where the competition will, he hopes, help him maintain a long run of top form.
“To be honest, when I learned that Edinburgh didn’t want to keep me, I was looking at going over to France, and just enjoying the lifestyle, enjoying the sunshine, and I wanted the wee man [his son, Hugo] to learn French.
“I spoke to Gregor and said ‘What’s the scenario? Am I in your plans? If not, I might only be able to find a Pro D2 [the French second tier] side’. I had to ask the question, because it came to the point where I had to make a decision.
“Gregor said I was in his plans, but if I signed for a Pro D2 side it wouldn’t be at a high enough level. So I said I’d sort something out and stay this side of the Channel. Being involved in Scotland means a lot to me, so I tried to sort things out with Edinburgh, that didn’t pan out, and then I went looking elsewhere.”
Right now, where the onset of winter means temperatures merely in the mid-20s rather than the stifling heat of high summer, Hidalgo-Clyne is looking no further than Saturday’s match in the Estadio Centenario and the chance to bounce back from defeat by the USA.
“I’m really looking forward to the Argentina game. Apparently there’s not been a game here for four years, so there should be a good crowd – hopefully we can get on top of them and quieten them down.”